Category Archives: Honolulu

Sportscaster in Hawaii – 1949

When We Last Left our Hero…

The Keiter's first apartment in Hawaii
The note on the back of this photo reads, “Our apt from the street, with the palm trees and air raid shelter in front, what a front yard, eh?”

Les Keiter had been summoned from Modesto, California to a new opportunity in Honolulu, Hawaii by his old boss, J. Elroy McCaw.  Such is the life of a budding sportscaster in 1949!  Les and Lila pulled up stakes and moved to a tiny apartment in Waikiki on Pau Street. 

Les hit the ground running as the sports director for KPOA-AM radio.  Immediately, he began doing baseball recreates on a full-time basis: 2 games a day, 7 days a week.  He called Major League ball games in the afternoon, and San Francisco Seals games in the evening.  Lila was Les’ official statistician!  She kept a huge book filled with the scores, and stats from the 8 Pacific Coast League teams as well as the American and the National Leagues. 

Kalaukukui to Kahuanui

Hawaiians love all of their sports – not only baseball.  In fact, Les was assigned a high school football game to announce four days after his arrival to the islands.  Always well researched, Les set about trying to familiarize himself with the team’s rosters.  Punahou High School was easy.  They had a lot of common names like Jones, Smith, and Obama…  But Kamehameha, the opposite team, was another story.  To attend that high school, you had to have a certain amount of Hawaiian blood in you, and therefore names got a bit more complicated.  They had 4 brothers on the squad: the Kalaukukui brothers.  Tommy Kalaukukui was the quarterback.  He threw 16 passes to Harry Kahuanui.  Imagine calling that game!  Kalaukukui to Kahuanui 16 times!  Les laid the groundwork for his life-long love affair with Hawaii because of his sense of humor and sensitivity to the local community.

Les Keiter, Gloria McLean Stewart, and James Stewart in Waikiki. The Stewart’s visited Hawaii for their honeymoon, where they enjoyed Keiter’s announcing, and the couples became friends.

In his later years, Les spoke wistfully about the time he and Lila shared together in those early days of their marriage and the early days of his career.  When they had the time, they played canasta with friends, went to the cinema, took in shows at the Waikiki hotels… They felt like they were on perpetual vacation!

A little more than a year after they’d arrived, Lila became pregnant.  She had carried on her job as statistician until, as she said, she decided to make a few statistics of her own.

Mr. Keiter? McCaw, Line One

The Keiter’s thought they’d be settling in for a while, but it wasn’t to be.  J. Elroy McCaw called again.  This time, he offered Keiter the sports director position at KYA Radio in San Francisco.  Les and Lila agonized over the decision, but since it would be a big move up for Les’ career, they decided to bid their idillic Hawaiian life “so long for now.”

Eight months into her pregnancy, having been given the go-ahead by her doctor, Lila and Les flew to San Francisco to set up their third home in as many years.

Les Keiter and The Baseball Recreate


courtesy of the David Eskenazi Collection
Leo Lassen – Seattle’s Master of the Baseball Recreate

When Les Keiter was a small boy, he loved the Seattle-area baseball announcer Leo Lassen.  In fact, he idolized him.  Leo was renowned for his depth of knowledge and insistence on accuracy.  He was a master in the art of the Baseball Recreate.  And little Les spent his time trying to emulate his hero by making up his own baseball tournaments – adding the element of suspense by rolling dice to determine the plays, while announcing the imaginary games in his best approximation of Leo Lassen’s style.  Les even kept score books of those made-up games, which his mother held onto for years!

Flash Forward!

When we last left off with Les Keiter’s story, he had survived the war, come home, and married his sweetheart (and expert baseball scorekeeper), Lila.  They ended their honeymoon adventure in Los Angeles, and drove to their new hometown, Modesto, California, where Les (unbeknownst to Lila**) had taken a job!  

Les went to work at an FM station, KBEE-FM, as part of the Eleanor McClatchey radio empire.  Not a lot of people had FM receivers at that time, but McClatchey had correctly guessed that it would be the medium of the future.  By filling their FM airwaves with sports, they were able to corner the FM market in their area.

Les was off to the races – announcing the Modesto Reds and Stockton Ports home games live and doing Baseball Recreates when they were away.

What the heck is a Baseball Recreate?

“Baseball Recreates,” you may be asking?  This was in the time before satellites and other high-speed communication, so when a local ball team traveled out of radio frequency range to play a game, the only way baseball fans could know what was happening in real time (or, close enough), was to listen to a Baseball Recreate.  The announcer would be in the local radio station receiving the game stats through telephone or teletype or telegram… whatever worked, and he would announce the game live on the radio using the real game stats, his wealth of knowledge about the players and the field, and a smattering of imagination to make it sound as if he was seeing the game being played in front of him.  The announcer or radio producer would fill in with sound effects for bat-cracks (Les preferred to do those himself with a drumstick and a wooden block), crowd noises, or whatever else was necessary to make the experience as authentic as possible.  The audience was told before the game that it was a recreation, so it was all above board, but it’s said that many people “knew, but didn’t want to know” they were listening to a Recreation.

This was where a baseball announcer’s individual skill and imagination could really shine.  This was also a decade before the Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to California, so the Modesto and Stockton teams were the biggest baseball attraction in town.   Les also rounded out the baseball broadcast schedule at the station with Recreates from the rest of the Class-A California State League.  

As far as we know, Les never spoke publicly about how he felt doing his very first on-air baseball recreate, but it’s certain that with all the practice he had making up his own games as a child, Keiter was as well prepared as could be.  And all of those Modesto and Stockton Recreates were starting to get him noticed.  As luck would have it, the 1949 baseball season was the all-time peak season for fan attendance in the league.

J. Elroy McCaw comes back to our story

In late 1949, after only about 5 months with KBEE, Les received a telegram from J. Elroy McCaw.  His former boss from KELA in Centralia-Chehalis, WA was now in Honolulu, Hawaii:


Les sent back, “ALWAYS INTERESTED.”

Hawaii was a treasure trove of work for a good announcer with Les Keiter’s skills.  So Les and Lila packed up and moved from Modesto to Honolulu, where Les would do Baseball Recreates full time.

Les Keiter

** Although it was a nice town, upon hearing Modesto was going to be their new home, Lila made her feelings clear, and Les resolved never to make such a decision without Lila’s input again.  And he never did.

Les Keiter – The War Years

Seattle 1942
Les Keiter upon enlisting in the Navy (with brother, aunts, and cousin)

Les Keiter enlisted in the Navy in early 1942 (his 3rd job).  

He completed basic training, became Yeoman 3rd Class, U.S. Naval Reserve, and was shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii.  Les’s brother, “Buddy,” enlisted  in the Navy shortly afterwards and was assigned to the SEABEES, 11th Special Battalion in the European theatre. 

Les was itching to be sent into combat, but he was assigned to clerical work for a commander’s office in the middle of the Navy Yard right there in Honolulu.  That lasted about 2 months until the skipper called him in to question him about why he wasn’t an officer when he had a college degree.  Les explained that he had poor color perception, which the Navy considered to be a physical defect and asked if anything could be done.  The skipper resolved to see if he could help move Keiter forward.

Les Keiter in Honolulu, 1942

6 weeks later, Keiter was promoted to Ensign and given 48 hours to prepare to ship out.   First, he was sent to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire for 6 weeks in officer training.  Next, he was shipped to Fort Schuyler, Long Island, New York for 6 more weeks of training. Then, he was assigned to Port Hueneme in Southern California to train with the ACORNS, which was an airfield operation unit assigned to work behind the Marines and SEABEEs on a recaptured island.   

By August, 1942, Les was finally sent out of US territory  with ACORN 15 – towards the Russel Islands, just north of Guadalcanal.  The ACORNS arrived in New Caledonia, then went on to Noumea, headquarters for the Pacific Command under Admiral “Bull” Halsey. It was there, upon seeing a place in which several Marines and SEABEEs  had been killed by an explosion a week earlier, the war, for Les, suddenly felt real. 

Upon arriving on the Russell Islands, the Harbormaster directed ACORN 15 to work with the SEABEEs 11th Special Battalion. 

Les’s friend, Billy Lee, said, “Isn’t that the outfit your brother is with?”

“Nonsense.  Buddy was sent to Europe.  Must be a different part of the Battalion.”

But Billy was not deterred and asked the harbor master about it.  In a thrilling coincidence, after heading to Europe, the Navy had sent Buddy right to where Les was stationed!  The reunion was so joyous, it even made the papers back home in Seattle.

Shortly after working together, Buddy shipped stateside and Les was reassigned to a communications outfit, bouncing from one Pacific Island to another for over a year, before landing on Peleliu, Palau, where Les was finally given a job he was most suited for: running the Palau Armed Forces Radio Station.

He was the station manager, and the station had a full staff right in the middle of the war!  They played records, did the news, and, of course, Les did sports.  He announced boxing matches, and he even had his own show covering baseball, including an exhibition visit and game with the navy All-Stars, which included big leaguers Pee Wee Reese and Scooter Rizzuto!

Not long after his stint on Palau, Les, too was sent back stateside for reassignment. Les stepped off a seaplane on San Francisco’s Treasure Island on an unforgettable date – April 12, 1945, the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away. 

Five months later, the war finally ended, Les and Buddy both survived, and it was time for everyone to try to put their civilian lives back together.

Bud, Dolly, Jake, and Les Keiter – Seattle, 1945